What Is the Role of Bacteria in Nature?
Bacteria were among the first life forms to appear on Earth, and are present in most of its habitats. Bacteria are minute organisms which are found everywhere. Bacteria inhabit soil, water, acidic hot springs, radioactive waste, and the deep biosphere of the earth’s crust. Bacteria also live in symbiotic and parasitic relationships with plants and animals.
Bacteria consist of just one cell, although sometimes groups of cells join together to form chains or other shapes. There are many different types of bacteria, but even the largest is still too small to see without the aid of a microscope. Some bacteria are spherical, some are oblong and others are long and wavy.
Most bacteria have not been characterised, and only about 27 percent of the bacterial phyla have species that can be grown in the laboratory. The study of bacteria is known as bacteriology, a branch of microbiology.
Bacteria are usually considered to be plants, although they do not possess the pigment chlorophyll, and normally obtain their energy by breaking down plant or animal tissues. Most bacteria reproduce by splitting into small fragments. This can occur as often as once every 20 minutes.
Nearly all animal life is dependent on bacteria for survival as only bacteria and some archaea possess the genes and enzymes necessary to synthesize vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, and provide it through the food chain.
In industry, bacteria are important in sewage treatment and the breakdown of oil spills, the production of cheese and yogurt through fermentation, the recovery of gold, palladium, copper and other metals in the mining sector, as well as in biotechnology, and the manufacture of antibiotics and other chemicals.
Although many bacteria are harmful, causing disease and even death, they perform a vital role in the cycle of nature. Without bacteria, dead plants and animals would not be broken down into valuable minerals for future generations, and all life on Earth would soon cease.